Automaton


2a-orange

I sit in the shower with the heat turned up so high that the steam makes it hard to breathe. The mist spirals out of a small, sliding window high up on the wall. It must rise into the night like smoke from a 19th century train

I wonder what people walking by think.

“He’s a steam punk enthusiast,” a girlfriend says to her boyfriends as she points at the window. “He’s in there with red tented goggles and a dark leather lab coat. He’s trying to build an automaton to do his laundry.”

“If he’s really good,” the boyfriend replies, pulling the girlfriend closer, “it’ll do the dishes too.”

A car streaks by. It makes the girlfriends long shirt billow. The girlfriend scrunches up her nose and pecks him with a kiss. “Tonight’s your night.”

The boyfriend smiles. “I know.”

I don’t see any of this, obviously. Not only is the window too high, but the steam would obscure them. They’d just be silhouettes, and I’d only be able to snatch muffled words from their conversation.

I couldn’t see the caring way he holds her, nor the cheap watch on his wrist, nor the three scratches on his glasses’ left lens.

I couldn’t see her dark hair, or the way the skin around her nose crinkles as she scrunches it. I couldn’t see her bracelets or tattoos, nor he calf muscles bunch as she stands on her tip-toes to swoop in for the kiss.

I couldn’t see any of these things.

They might not have even happened.

“You know,” I tell Matt as I make a caramel macchiato for an Armenian woman who talks  loudly on the phone, “one day a robot will do our job.”

“They already do,” Matt says. He dumps some ice into the ice bin. “They’re like Redboxes but for coffee. You can do it all on your phone.”

I think about this as I hand  the woman her coffee. She doesn’t even notice me. My hand might as well be a metal claw.

She brushes up against my index finger and doesn’t even flinch. If my skin were smooth and hard and cold and reflective she would have reacted the same way.

She’d probably prefer it.

“So what can we do?” I ask Matt.

“What?”

“When we’re automatons.”

“We are?”

“Well, our job. We’ll still be Matt and Charles.”

“We’ll have better jobs by then.”

“Yeah, but they already have programs that can write songs and paint pictures.” Matt’s a musician. This hits him rather hard.

“Pretty soon they’ll write self indulgent blog posts too, and then what will I do?” I continue.

“We’ll get drunk,” Matt says.

This is Matt’s answer to everything. It isn’t a bad answer.

“Yeah, but for people like us, people who burn to express themselves, people who make things, people who demand to be noticed, what will we do to satisfy us?”

“Drink.”

“But if there’s a computer program that writes things better than anything I can ever dream of, no one will ever care about my book. No one will even read my blog!”

“I would.”

“Why?”

“Because I know you made it.”

He wasn’t kidding, either.

I looked across the bar. Debbie was there. She’s one of my regulars and always asks that I make her black tea for her. It’s just pouring liquid up to lines marked on a shaker, but she says I do it better than anyone else.

I don’t know if I do, but I know she likes it more because she knows I made it.

I smile at her, and she smiles back.

So I sit in the shower and craft my automaton. The steam makes me cough, but I like it that way. It adds mystery to the world. It’s so hot I sweat, and it reminds me of sweltering summer nights in Trevor’s front yard.

We had these green cloaks we had gotten from a renaissance festival, and my friends and I would play a game where the person with the cloak would run into the yard and just lay down somewhere. The cloak would be over them and it’s uncanny shade of green made it almost impossible to see them. We’d have to find the person in the cloak, and whoever found them first got to wear it next.

It would get unbearably hot under that cloak. Ants would crawl on your legs. Mosquitoes would land on the outside. I probably got West Nile half a dozen times, but you can’t move, you mustn’t move or they’d find you.

I know you can’t make an automaton for that, so I don’t bother.

The girl was right. Making one for laundry is just the ticket.

I craft it out of bronze and leather. It’s powered by a great billows that blows life into its limbs. It creaks as it walks on spider legs.

It does my laundry for me every day except Tuesdays, because on Tuesdays I get my tips and I can’t bare to give my automaton three dollars for the wash. Not when there’s so many other things I can buy.

I never tell it that I take the cash to the laundromat down the street.

I’m sure it will find me one day as it puffs down the street on some errand or other. It’ll do a double take as it passes the plate glass windows and sees its master sitting on a dryer, watching clothes spin round and round in a circle inside a washing machine.

I hope it’s not hurt.

I think it’ll understand.

It’ll lean up close against the glass. It’s vicious claws will hang meekly by its side, and it’s huge glass eye will watch me, and my automaton will understand that sometimes, sometimes you gotta do you’re own laundry.

Sometimes you gotta watch it spin yourself, because even though your automaton is perfect, you’ll never shake the feeling that you do your laundry better.

 

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1800 Seconds at a Starbucks With No Line


StarbucksPic

I’ve often thought that opposites are the scariest thing in the universe.  What could be more frightening to a being accustomed only to light than darkness?  Only land than water?  Only existence than nothingness?

There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to ask himself the hard questions.  What’s he afraid of?  What’s his opposite?

I work at a Starbucks in a large mall. It’s not a bad job, and it’s actually a great break form writing screenplays and thinking all the time.  I never thought I’d have an existential moment there.

And yet I fucking did.

What’s my opposite?

I found it, this very night, while working the register during the late shift.  It all happened in the span of 30 minutes.

30 terrifying minutes where I had the opposite of a line.

Minute 1:

The two women stood about five feet back form the counter.  The squinted at the menu.  I asked if I could help them.  They didn’t respond.  They just stared.   I wondered if they even heard me.  They were probably going to order Very Berry Hibiscus Refreshers.  They had the look about them.  The thirst.

Minute 2:

They finally ordered very berry hibiscus, just like I knew they would.

Minute 3:

They went over to the bar.  There was no one else in line.  I drummed my fingers on the counter and let out a long sigh.

Minute 4:

Joe finished passing out their drinks.  I watched him do it.  His eyes were dead.  The smile was forced.  I could tell he couldn’t hang on much longer

Minute 5:

There still wasn’t anyone else in line.  Joe went to the back to do some dishes.  The shift was in the storeroom counting supplies.  I was all alone.

Minute 6:

I couldn’t believe it.  There wasn’t even anyone else in the mall.  The phone rang.  I picked it up.  There was no one on the line.  I crumpled up a receipt and tried to shoot it into a trash can.  I missed.  I picked it up and tried again.

Minutes 7 – 10:

I continued to miss.

Minute 11:

I heard a scraping sound coming from the somewhere by Bloomingdales.  It sounded like somebody was dragging a shovel on the tile floor.  The phone rang again.  There was no one on the line.  I walked out of the store.

Minute 12:

I looked toward Bloomingdales.  One of the overhead lights about 300 yards down flickered.  The scraping sound didn’t stop, but no one was there.  The phone rang.  I didn’t answer.

Minute 13:

Still no line.  I heard a splashing by the fountain.  The sound of a child’s laughter.  I wanted to go investigate, but someone had to stay at the front of the store.

Minute 14:

Things started to get weird.  A woman in a dress walked back and forth between the Disney Store and the Sporting Good store.  She carried an old, one-eyed teddy bear.  The phone rang.

Minute 15: I asked her if she was okay.  She turned to me.  She had no eyes.  “Today is National Hot Dog Day.” She whispered.  My heart seized up in my chest.  I told her I already knew it was national hot dog day.  Facebook told me.

Minute 16: The woman just stared at me.  I just stared back.  I noticed she actually looked more like a little girl than a woman.  Perhaps the girl from the fountain.o-BLACK-EYED-CHILD-570

Minute 17: This was certainly the longest I had ever gone without a customer at Starbucks.  The girl recommenced her wanderings.  She eventually walked away.  I went back into the store

Minute 18:  The phone rang.  I picked it up.  “It’s National Hot Dog Day.”   That’s when I started to go mad.

Minute 19 – 25:

I don’t remember much.  The phone kept ringing.  I think I stacked cups into castles on the counter.  I made sugar packet guards and used the drink sleeves as gates.  I laughed a lot.  The children kept laughing with me, too.

Minute 26:

I thought there was someone in line.  It turned out to be no one, though.

Minute 30:

I woke up on the floor.  An old lady looked over the counter at me.  She had a Nathan’s Famous bag on the counter.

“Are you okay?”  she asked.

I wasn’t.  I just asked her what I could get her to drink.

“What goes well with hot dogs?”  She asked.  There was a strange smile on her face.  “It’s national hotdog day.”

And that’s when I heard the phone ring.

And that’s when I started to go slightly mad.

But…

Ah!  Another person!  And another.  A line, a blessed line, and I was swept up in the moment.  The fear vanished and I told her, I told her…

I told her a Java Chip with an add shot would go great with hot dogs.  It was a lie.

creepy kids

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